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posted: 7/31/2011 3:00 AM

Take steps now to reduce flooding

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July 24 marks the one-year anniversary of the storms and flooding that devastated the West suburbs and caused FEMA to declare a disaster area, eventually making more than $131 million in aid available for cleanup.

Charlie and Kristin Morrow's Elmhurst home flooded twice last summer. Damages exceeded $100,000. Their misery is one example among thousands.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has spent billions to install the much-delayed Deep Tunnel, and yet, even when finished, it will not solve our stormwater problems. We need to move ahead swiftly with a broader range of alternatives such as low-cost, street-by-street, retrofitting of neighborhoods to better deal with wet weather events ("wetrofitting").

Retrofit measures include disconnecting downspouts, repairing property lateral pipes and installing porous paving, bioswales, rain gardens and super-barrels. This approach provides jobs and reduces stormwater pollution into Lake Michigan.

So what next?

1. We need better data on the scale of the flooding. How many residents and businesses are affected by flooding? What do property owners spend to avoid or clean up flooded basements? The answers to these basic questions are not readily available.

2. We need to test solutions. A project on the North Side is organizing land owners in three communities to install "wetrofits" on their property. The initiative will test what measures work best and what people will pay for them.

3. We need to deliver solutions at scale. We need cost-effective solutions that many homeowners can do on their own in the context of coordinated and sustained support for community wide stormwater management. We also need to remove the policy barriers that stand in the way of swift action. Intense storms are getting less and less unique. Taking the problem seriously and finding cost-effective solutions is the best way to avoid unnecessary hardship in the future.

Harriet Festing

Water program director

Center for Neighborhood Technology